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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Despite Promises From Feds, Kenwood Apartment Residents Still Living With Faulty Plumbing, Insect Infestations, Rent Mixups

It took nearly a year and legal threats from the city to pressure Ellis Lakeview's owner to fix an elevator, tenants said — but there's still much work to be done.

Left: Two Ellis Lakeview tenants had their shower walls removed "with no explanation, reason or timeline for when it would be put back up," according to a complaint to HUD. Right: Another tenant's bathroom ceiling is stained and damaged from leaks. Both photos were taken prior to tenants' most recent meeting with HUD Dec. 29.
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KENWOOD — Residents of a Kenwood affordable housing complex who alerted the federal government of their squalid living conditions months ago say they’re still waiting for officials to fix some of the problems.

Tenants at the 105-unit Ellis Lakeview Apartments, 4624 S. Ellis Ave., filed a complaint in September with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Photos and reports submitted to HUD documented numerous issues, including mold-like substances, broken plumbing, insect infestations, overflowing trash chutes and faulty furniture.

Block Club highlighted the issue in December, showing the building failed numerous inspections in the past year, leaving residents to deal with filthy conditions as coronavirus swept the city.

A HUD investigation determined “a number” of complaints were valid, spokesperson Marta Juaniza said.

Department officials wrote building owner Apex Chicago IL to demand repairs in a Nov. 3 letter, nearly three months ago. If Apex doesn’t fix the problems at Ellis Lakeview, HUD could suspend the company’s subsidy payments; flag the company as a temporary “compliance risk,” affecting its ability to access federal funds even after the issues are resolved; or terminate its Section 8 contract.

But HUD officials will not say when the deadline to complete repairs is, or if Apex complied with the deadline. Juaniza also did not say how much time Apex has to address outstanding complaints before risking punishment.

“Several complaints have been addressed, and HUD is reserving all enforcement rights to obtain full compliance,” Juaniza said last week.

Residents say there hasn’t been much improvement, though.

HUD “seems to be very relaxed” with its deadlines and willingness to enforce rules against Apex and property manager Integra Affordable Housing, said Karen, a tenant who requested Block Club only use her first name.

Elevator Out Of Service For Almost A Year

The building failed 13 city inspections and racked up 84 code violations last year. One of the two elevators for the 11-story building has been out of service for nearly a year — “throughout this whole pandemic definitely, and before,” Karen said.

Those violations, which are the subject of the city’s pending court case against Apex, are set to be resolved by the end of the week. Permits for elevator repairs were issued last Friday, said Mimi Simon, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Buildings.

The department last inspected the building Dec. 10. The property manager told city officials “all concerns outlined by the tenants in their letter to HUD have been addressed,” but inspectors found new violations relating to insects, windows and carpeting, Simon said.

At the December inspection, a fire systems consultant was on hand to fix emergency lighting and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, Simon said.

“I’m listening to [HUD] and my thoughts are, ‘Why are you acting like this is OK?'” Karen said. “This stuff is not okay. Clearly, [Apex and Integra] are not fit to manage a building of this size and can’t handle a HUD contract. At what point is enough, enough?”

Even when Apex and Integra have addressed residents’ complaints, they’ve prioritized short-term fixes over structural repairs, said Tonnett Hammond, chair of the Ellis Tenants Association.

Submitting completed work orders for HUD’s approval is not the same as fixing the problems, she said.

“They put Band-Aids over the work,” Hammond said. “They wanted to show [HUD] they’re trying, but it doesn’t mean they’re actually fixed something. The work orders are booty, they’re bulls—.”

Federal officials’ responses are unacceptable, especially in the face of dozens of code violations dating back to the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, first-floor resident Ashley Salibellas said.

“I think it went in one ear and out the other,” Salibellas said. “They said they care about our situation, yet they’re not doing anything to make sure our voices are heard.”

The Ellis Tenants Association last met with HUD Dec. 29 and met with Ald. Sophia King (4th) for the first time Jan. 12.

Following the meeting, King’s office agreed to follow up with residents on their complaints and meet with stakeholders to resolve them.

“We have agreed to work with all necessary departments to correct the concerns stated to us by the residents of 4624 S. Ellis,” said Prentice Butler, King’s chief of staff. “We have agreed to follow up with residents once we have spoken with the appropriate departments.”

King and state Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) are the only elected officials to meet with the tenants’ association, Hammond said. Other members of the state Legislature and Congress have stopped responding to tenants’ requests for a meeting or ignored them altogether, she said.

Even when officials have met with tenants, securing time to chat has been a struggle, tenants said. The meeting with King only took place after her office rescheduled several times, Hammond said.

But she said she’s pleased with King’s show of support at last week’s meeting — as long as the alderwoman follows through on her promises.

“She claimed she was going to use the power of her office to try to force some people’s hands, so we just want to see if her words match her actions,” Hammond said.

Financial Confusion

Tenants also accused Ellis Lakeview management of financial errors, claiming they received inaccurate rent balance notices after Block Club’s initial story published Dec. 9.

For Salibellas, that meant having a request for $85 posted to her front door Dec. 10, before the charge was removed without explanation, she said.

Karen’s most recent rent balance was “less than I owe, so it kind of worked in my favor, but it’s definitely inaccurate,” she said.

Hammond’s payment ledger shows she was charged three rates in 2020.

Other inconsistencies in documents obtained by Block Club include:

  • A Dec. 10 notice informing a tenant of a rent rate adjustment for November. The notice includes a request to respond by Oct. 10, two months before the notice was issued.
  • A Dec. 10 notice requesting $2,109 in back rent from a tenant who claims the property manager never updated their monthly rent rate to reflect their loss of income. The income loss had been reported 14 months prior, the tenant said.
  • A Dec. 10 notice requesting $51 in back rent from a tenant who, like Salibellas, claimed they were up to date on payments and given no ledger or written explanation for the charge.
  • A Dec. 17 notice informing a tenant of a rent rate adjustment for December, given two weeks after their rent was due for the month.

While many of the inaccurate balances have since been resolved, they show the extent of errors and delays in record-keeping at the property, tenants said.

Juaniza confirmed the building owner is subject to an annual financial audit from HUD.

Integra did not respond to a request for comment.

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